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I do not minimise the fact that it would be darker in the mornings if we made the changes, and measures would be required to address the dangers, particularly for children going to school in the dark and people travelling to work in the dark. I do not minimise those issues, but I want to drive home the point that there are jobs to be had and earnings to be made in this country if we change the clocks as I suggest.

I have also received support from the British Resorts and Destinations Association, which represents some 60 local authorities with major coastal tourism interests in England and Northern Ireland, the trade association for the Heritage and Tourist Railways in the UK, which represents nearly 100 members, the Heritage Railways Association, the Business Visits and Events Partnership, which represents the interests of more than 20 organisations and associations in the conference, meetings, exhibitions, corporate hospitality, cultural, leisure and sporting festival sectors. Those sectors represent £22 billion to the UK economy and visitor spend, and account for 28 per cent. of all inbound visits to Britain. Furthermore, more than £100 billion of trade is transacted at business events in the United Kingdom. That is a powerful voice for the change. All those organisations support my argument.

A third argument, in addition to energy savings and jobs in tourism, is a reduction in the carnage on our roads. When we had an experiment in this country for three years between 1968 and 1971 with British summer time all year round, there were 2,000 fewer deaths and serious injuries on the roads. Since then, the Transport Research Laboratory has updated the figures for its estimate of today’s savings if we adopted single/double summer time. The last published report from the TRL on that subject was in 2004 and said that deaths would be reduced by adopting single/double summer time in the whole of the United Kingdom by between 104 and 134, and that there would be 400 fewer serious injuries on our roads.

This week, I asked TRL to confirm that that figure is still relevant, and it is not. Because of improvement in reducing road casualties since 2004, it estimates that today there would be 82 fewer fatal casualties per year on the roads, and 202 fewer serious casualties. Those figures do not come from a published report, so there may be some question about them, but even with those lower figures, and six years after I chaired the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety, I cannot think of another single initiative on road safety that would save as many as 82 lives every year. There is a very powerful argument for saving lives on our roads every year by making this change.

Other people argue that the change would help in the battle against obesity. On the radio this morning, I heard the chief medical officer describing obesity as a “national crisis”. He recommends that there should be more attention to the issue of breastfeeding babies, more information about the nutrition of the food that we consume and more support for cooking. All those are beyond the remit of this debate, but he moved on to say that people should get more regular physical exercise, and one argument for lighter evenings is that people would have time to stroll in the light, to go out, to play sport in outdoor arenas and to get the regular exercise that they do not get at present. There is a very strong public health argument for having lighter evenings in this country to help with that national crisis.

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Some people argue that elderly people feel more vulnerable after dusk each day and are fearful of going out of their homes, so lighter evenings would give them the reassurance that they could go out at night. That is why Age Concern and most police forces also support the case for lighter evenings.

As I mentioned, back in 1968 this country undertook a trial of having British summer time all year round. That is not my proposal today, although it has the advantage of not having to fiddle with the clocks twice a year. Nevertheless, there was an experiment for three years.

Mr. MacNeil: The experiment in 1968 to 1971 was BST all year round. The hon. Gentleman is not suggesting that; he is suggesting a move to European time. Again, I ask for consideration of a shorter winter period. We live at a certain latitude and we will have shorter days, but his argument might be more palatable in certain areas if it was proved on an incremental basis. I do not see the logic of seven weeks before midwinter and 15 weeks after it, which is 22 weeks of the year under Greenwich mean time. We perhaps would be able to move to five weeks before and five weeks after and have that period of wintertime. I ask the hon. Gentleman to think of supporting that and getting European directives to change, because after all it is only a European directive.

Mr. Kidney: I agree with the hon. Gentleman that we should take things a step at a time. I have said to him that my answer is not no in respect of when we put the clocks forward and back in this country, and I have explained that there is an issue about doing the same as the rest of Europe if we were to go down that road. My point is that we had an experiment for three years, from 1968 to 1971. Why do we not have a three-year experiment of single/double summer time in this country now to see whether I am right in saying that we would make savings on energy and carbon emissions, create more jobs in tourism and save lives on our roads? It is quite a compelling argument.

If we think back to 1968, those were the days of cheap energy, so people did not even ask for an evaluation of whether there were energy savings, but I am pretty certain from the evidence that I have cited that there would be today. Back then, the tourism industry did not have the significance that it has today. There is a much more powerful case now. With regard to the argument about road safety, it was ridiculous that Parliament made its decision to abandon the trial before it had evaluated what had happened on the roads. It never took into account the fact that 100 lives a year could be saved. Give us the chance of showing over three years that this change would make a difference, because I think that it would be quite significant.

This is a minor point to me, but the hon. Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Mr. MacNeil) kept mentioning European time. If we adopted single/double summer time, we would be in the same time zone as Europe, which is convenient for transacting business, I suppose. If we started next year with the three-year experiment, it would cover the period of the Olympics being held in the United Kingdom. Considering the boost in tourism in this country during the Olympics that we are hoping for, it would be an added bonus if we were to do the experiment now.

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I am interested to know whether the Minister is at all enthused and would give a lead to the country on such an experiment.

5.4 pm

The Minister for Trade, Investment and Consumer Affairs (Mr. Gareth Thomas): I welcome the chance to respond to the debate on this topic. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford (Mr. Kidney) on securing it and on the way in which he launched it. I recognise that he is a considerable enthusiast on the issue. He sponsored the Lighter Evenings (Experiment) Bill and makes the case for a shift to single/double summer time. I recognise, too, his advocacy of Ministers reading the “Saving the Daylight” book. I will happily bring that to the attention again of my right hon. Friend the Minister for Employment Relations and Postal Affairs. I have noted, in listening to my hon. Friend’s remarks, the considerable history of Stafford Members in this area. I have also noticed the burgeoning alliance between the people of Stafford and the people of the highlands of Scotland. Again, I will certainly draw that point to my right hon. Friend’s attention.

I suspect that my hon. Friend will not be surprised by some of the less positive, from his perspective, comments that I shall place on the record, but I hope that I can offer him a chink of optimism for the future. He will know that the issue that we are debating now has been debated many times in the past and it will no doubt be the subject of many lively debates in the future. It often comes to the fore in the run-up to the clocks going back each year. On 29 March next year, the clocks will once again go forward, and many people will be looking forward to that change. However, opinion remains divided: some people prefer lighter mornings and some prefer lighter evenings. In reality, we will not be able to please everybody.

We need to look back, as hon. Members have sought to do, at the evidential case for change and to recognise that the British people will have opinions on this question and, indeed, have demonstrated their opinions. The most recent poll, by YouGov for The Daily Telegraph two years ago, asked voters whether Britain should operate double summer time as, it was claimed, that would mean longer evenings, save lives, reduce energy consumption and align Britain with its continental neighbours—all points that my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford made in advancing his case. Unsurprisingly, that sounded a pretty attractive proposition, so a majority of people in the poll, except in Scotland, were in favour of switching to double summer time. I suspect that if the question had been couched in different terms and had proposed darker mornings, the result would have been slightly different.

Mr. MacNeil: Just to support the Minister’s point, I would like to inform him that I was on the Nicky Campbell show on Radio 5 recently, when Jersey was having its vote a month or two ago, and the Jersey politician who was on with me was in favour of the change to European time because he wanted more light in the morning. Of course, the change that he was supporting would have achieved the exact opposite.

May I put a supplementary question to the Minister? Can he give any explanation—I have asked this question and searched for the answer many times—why we have
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asymmetrical periods around midwinter? Why is it seven weeks before midwinter and 15 weeks after it? I will not be surprised if he does not have the answer, because it is hard to find.

Mr. Thomas: I am very interested in the hon. Gentleman’s performance in the media. I was not entirely sure whether he was supporting the Government’s position and moving away from the people of Stafford on this question. I will have to take away his question and see whether the Minister for Employment Relations and Postal Affairs, who leads in this area for the Department, wishes to respond to him once he has read the book that my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford mentioned.

Let me return to the issue of the British standard time experiment, to which my hon. Friend referred. From 27 October 1968 through to 31 October 1971, we experimented with darker winter mornings, harmonising British clocks with those of other western European countries. The consultations that took place in the run up to that decision revealed a considerable divergence of opinion between the majority in England and Wales, who favoured British standard time all year round, and those in Scotland and the north of England who were opposed.

My hon. Friend will be aware that a review of the experiment found it impossible to quantify a great many of the more important advantages and disadvantages of British standard time. He may be aware also that practical objections were raised by the farming and construction industries, and by others involved in outdoor work, such as road maintenance workers, postal workers and dairy workers—particularly those in the north of England and Scotland, who were caused discomfort and inconvenience because of the late sunrise in winter and who could not change their working hours because of the public demand for early services.

As a result of deliberations in Parliament, there was a free vote in 1970, and the experiment was abandoned in the autumn of 1971. Although there may have been some positive benefits with the road accident rate, another factor referred to by my hon. Friend, the House voted by a decisive margin—366 to 81—to revert to the current arrangements.

My hon. Friend alluded to the experiment in Portugal. Again, there was a change to central European time in 1992, but the Portuguese reverted to GMT in 1996 because of the substantial disturbances for the population. The Government’s new ally, the hon. Member for the Highlands—

Mr. MacNeil: It is Na h-Eileanan an Iar.

Mr. Thomas: I hope that the hon. Gentleman will forgive me for not naming his constituency. He rightly raised the question of Jersey, where a referendum was
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held on the question of adopting central European time. Again, there was a decisive vote against.

Numerous studies have been made on the particular factors to do with energy savings and climate change upon which my hon. Friend based his case. I note the particular example of the recent United States Department of Energy statistics, which is interesting, as is the recent Cambridge university paper. My hon. Friend may be aware of other surveys, including the Building Research Establishment study of 2005, which suggested that a change would lead to an increase in energy consumption in buildings in the UK rather than realising savings. Although the Cambridge university paper argued that there would be a small saving in the use of electricity, it did not refer to any other modes of energy delivery.

Mr. Kidney: My hon. Friend ought to know that the BRE study has been comprehensively discredited. Where is the leadership from Government? This is an option that will create jobs, has virtually no capital cost and requires no Government borrowing, and it comes at a time of serious and worrying economic news in our country and around the world. Where is the leadership? Rather than waiting for the opinion polls and the surveys to satisfy them that everyone is in favour, why do the Government not set the mood of the country? They should do it because it is important, rather than waiting for someone else to tell them that it is a good idea.

Mr. Thomas: My hon. Friend will know from the pre-Budget report and various other statements that if there is a decisive case for change, the Government will move. At this stage, we remain unconvinced of the case for change. I have given him some sense of our concerns on energy consumption. He pointed to one study from the US. It is the most recent. However, other studies suggest that the level of change would not be significant.

I recognise that there is an argument for change for the tourism and leisure industry, and my hon. Friend prayed in aid support from a considerable number of the relevant industry bodies. However, we remain less convinced of the case on road safety grounds. When one compares casualty rates at different times of the day and at different times of the year, there is surprisingly little difference between the summer and winter months. I therefore suggest to my hon. Friend that the case for change based on road safety is not as strong as he suggested.

I know that my hon. Friend has met colleagues in other Departments. We do not think that there is a case for change. If my hon. Friend has evidence, we will be happy to hear it—

5.15 pm

Sitting adjourned without Question put (Standing Order No. 10(11)).

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